Category Archives: Feast Days

Did Jesus interpret Scripture “liberally?”

In the parable of the “Prodigal Son,” Jesus rejected conservatism in favor of grace

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I originally called this post “Jesus was a liberal.”  But after further review I narrowed the scope, something appeal-courts often do.  That made the question far less broad and so easier to answer.  Thus the limited question:  “Did Jesus interpret Scripture ‘liberally?”  Or as one legal site said, “What is called a liberal construction is ordinarily one which makes a statute apply to more things or in more situations than would be the case under strict construction.”

And that’s just what Jesus did.  (And His disciples.)  For starters, there’s Mark 2:27 where Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”  That is, under the old law – the “conservative law” – of Exodus 23:12, any work on the Sabbath was forbidden:

For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your maidservant may be refreshed, as well as the foreign resident.

Philippe de Champaigne - Moses with the Ten Commandments - WGA04717.jpg(See also Deuteronomy 5:12, and 5:14.)  But to Jesus, circumstances had changed since Moses made that rule.  (Right after he brought the Israelites out of captivity.)  Which meant the “old law” needed updating.  (Mostly because Conservatives had elevated form over substance, as they are wont to do.)  So Jesus went back to the original words of the rule to fully implement its true intent.  

So again, “What is called a liberal construction is ordinarily one which makes a statute apply to more things or in more situations than would be the case under strict construction.”

Which seems to be just what Jesus had in mind:  Make the Gospel apply to more people.

Then too – as if that isn’t enough to give a Southern Baptist apoplexy – many if not most of His disciples also interpreted Scripture “liberally.”  (Thus making the “Good News” apply to more things and in more situations – and to more people – than could be the case under strict construction.) 

Which brings up the fact that last June 29 was the Feast Day for both Saints Peter and Paul.  The Daily Office Readings for that day – Friday, June 29 – included Acts 11:1-18.  That’s one place where the Apostle Peter “went all Liberal.”  He did that in response to the Conservatives among early Christians who criticized him.  See Acts 11:1:  “Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.”

Which didn’t suit them at all.  See Acts 11:2:  “So when Peter” – at left – “went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers” – that is, the Conservatives – “criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’  But as it turned out. those Conservatives had open minds.  That is, after Peter explained his “vision,” they actually changed their minds.  (Something today’s Conservatives rarely do.)  See Acts 11:18:  “When they heard these things they fell silent.  And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'”

That is, under the Old Law – the Conservative, “Jeff Sessions” law – the Path of Life was limited to Jews, and only to Jews.  That’s pretty much what Jesus said – at first – in Matthew 15:27.  That’s where Jesus set out the Conservative view that “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  (With the children being the Jews – and only the Jews – while the “dogs” are uncircumcised Gentiles.)  Yet Jesus – with His open mind – got “persuaded” to change His mind.

And – by the way – that turnabout came through a woman who was a bit smarmy:

With a woman’s ready wit, quickened by urgency and affection, she seizes the opportunity, and turns Christ’s own words against himself.  Thou sayest truth, she means;  the Jews are the children;  we are the dogs;  and as dogs we claim our portion.

Paolo Veronese. Christ Healing a Woman with an Issue of Blood.(From the Pulpit Commentary for verse 27.)  Then there was the case of Jesus healing the bleeding woman.  But His having anything to do with such an impure woman was contrary to the conservative “old” law of Leviticus 15:25-27:

“If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness.”

(See also Leviticus 15:19-23, regarding a woman’s regular monthly “Curse…”)

And finally there was the case of the Apostle Philip “liberally” dealing with an untouchable eunuch.  See On Saint Philip, Saint James, and “privy members.”  That is, as a eunuch the Ethiopian eunuch was untouchable under the Old Law, the Conservative Law.

That’s because of Deuteronomy 23:1, and the New Living Translation is pretty specific:  “If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.”  The King James Bible – the one that God uses – put the matter more delicately:  “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.”  Yet Philip too turned “all Liberal,” and in doing so followed in the footsteps of Jesus.  That is, he interpreted the “Good News” so that it would apply to more things, more situations, and more people than was possible under “strict construction.”

(For more on whether Jesus was a “liberal,” see On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?)

Of course some conservatives – Biblical or otherwise – may disagree, which is of course their right.  But personally I’d like the Good News to apply to more people.  For one big thing, there’s Matthew 7:2:  “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”  For myself, when my time comes I want whoever – Jesus, St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, whoever – to “turn all liberal” when He or they are reviewing my life.

Then too, the definition of conservatism includes a disposition “to preserve what is established,” and/or a “tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change.”  So all I can say is, “Thank God Jesus wasn’t a conservative!”  I’m glad He made some changes.

The bottom line?  All I can do is give you “just the facts.”  You decide for yourself…

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The upper image is courtesy of The Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt) – Wikipedia:

It is among the Dutch master’s final works, likely completed within two years of his death in 1669.  Depicting the moment of the prodigal son‘s return to his father … it is a renowned work described by art historian Kenneth Clark as “a picture which those who have seen the original in St. Petersburg may be forgiven for claiming as the greatest picture ever painted.”

See also Parable of the Prodigal Son – Wikipedia, which indicated that the older son – who stayed behind with his father – represented more “conservative” values.  That is, the older son  “seems to think in terms of ‘law, merit, and reward,’ rather than ‘love and graciousness.’  He may represent the Pharisees who were criticizing Jesus.”  See also “There’s no such thing as a ‘conservative Christian.”  

The initial first paragraph:  “It seems that if you want to start an argument these days, you could say something outrageous like ‘Jesus Was A Liberal.’  So here goes!  For starters, if you Google ‘jesus was a liberal’ you’ll get about 100,000 results.  (Which actually isn’t that many…)”   Also, the full title of the “Jesus-liberal” link is Jesus Was A Liberal: 20 Quotes GOP Christians Will Hate.  For an opposing view, see Was Jesus a Liberal? The Myth Debunked! » Louder With Crowder.  Or for a more balanced view, see Is Jesus a Liberal or a Conservative? | Meet The Need Blog.

Re:  The Sabbath.  See United Church of God – “The Sabbath Was Made for Man,” etc.

Re: Peter and Paul.  See also On Peter, Paul – and other “relics.”

Re:  Turning “Christ’s own words against himself.”  See also On arguing with God.

The “bleeding woman” image is courtesy of Veronese. Christ Healing a Woman with an Issue of Blood.

 BTW:  The complete Daily Office Readings for St. Peter & St. Paul are:  AM Psalm 66Ezekiel 2:1-7Acts 11:1-18;  PM Psalm 97138Isaiah 49:1-6Galatians 2:1-9.

The lower image is courtesy of Just The Facts Ma’am – Image Results.  But see also Joe Friday – Wikipedia, which noted that Detective Friday never actually used the phrase:  “A common misattributed catchphrase to Friday is ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ In fact, Friday never actually said this in an episode, but it was featured in Stan Freberg‘s works parodying ‘Dragnet.’”  See also FACT CHECK: Dragnet ‘Just the Facts’ – snopes.com.

The Trinity – Jefferson’s “3-headed monster…”

Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800).jpg

As smart a guy as Thomas Jefferson couldn’t understand the Doctrine of the Trinity

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pentecost copyLast Sunday, May 20, 2018 was the Day of Pentecost (illustrated at left by El Greco.)  It’s also called Whitsunday.  This Sunday, May 27, was the First Sunday after Pentecost It’s also known as Trinity Sunday.

There’s more on the Trinity below – along with the “Three-headed Monster” – but first:  For more information on May 20 and Pentecost, see Ascension Day and Pentecost – 2016Mary’s Visitation – and Pentecost – 2017, and Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church!”

Before the events of the first Pentecost … there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.”  Thus … Pentecost is the day on which the church was started.  This is also true from a spiritual perspective, since the Spirit brings the church into existence and enlivens it.  Thus Pentecost is the church’s birthday.

Pentecost also marked a big change in the idea of “Ministry.”  In the Old Testament, “the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings.”  But starting with Pentecost, God recruited “all different sorts of people for ministry.”  That is, the Holy Spirit – the spirit of ministry – now became available to anyone and everyone:  “All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social position.”

Thus the first Pentecost was indeed a “momentous, watershed event.”

Incidentally, the word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek for “the 50th day,” and it’s always celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday.  (That’s “seven weeks plus one day.”) 

For more information on May 27, 2018, see On Trinity Sunday, 2015, and On Trinity Sunday (2016) – and more!  For starters, Trinity Sunday is always the Sunday after Pentecost, and  celebrates the idea of the three Persons of God:  Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:

Trinity Sunday … is one of the few celebrations of the Christian Year that commemorates a reality and doctrine rather than a person or event…   The Trinity is one of the most fascinating – and controversial – Christian dogmas.  The Trinity is a mystery.  By mystery the Church does not mean a riddle, but rather the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension that we may begin to grasp, but ultimately must know through worship, symbol, and faith.  It has been said that [this] mystery is not a wall to run up against, but an ocean in which to swim.

(Emphasis added.)  In other words, the Trinity as a concept is so difficult to understand that even a smart guy like Thomas Jefferson couldn’t do it.  But while Jefferson referred to the Doctrine of the Trinity as a “Three-headed Monster,” I prefer the metaphor of “an ocean in which to swim.”  (For a long, long time – and ultimately the rest of your Christian pilgrimage on this earth.)

It also seems to me that – while Jefferson was really smart – he fell into the “common error of thinking that he could ever really understand everything there is to know about God.”

But as noted above, “the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension.”  It’s a reality that we can only begin to grasp.  The same seems to be true of much of the Bible, and especially the “mystical” parts.  (Which may be why some choose “literalism.”  It’s ever so much easier…)

That brings up the Gospel for May 27, John 3:1-17.  There Jesus had a talk with a “Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews” who was really a “Christian,” but secretly.  And even a smart guy like Nicodemus – shown at right talking with Jesus – didn’t understand the idea of being “born again.”

His problem?  He took Jesus’ words too literally:  “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
…  If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Which goes to show that reading the Bible too literally can only take you so far in your spiritual journey.  As Jesus Himself noted, the Bible includes many realities that are simply above our human comprehension:  “How can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

See also the end of John, John 21:25, which said there were many other things Jesus did, “which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”  (Also there’s Ecclesiasticus 42:17, the Old Testament DOR for the Eve of Trinity Sunday:  “The Lord has not empowered even his holy ones to recount all his marvellous works.”)  Which just goes to show there’s more to the Bible than meets the eye.

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The artist He Qi‘s interpretation of The Holy Spirit Coming down…  

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The upper image is courtesy of Thomas Jefferson – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Thomas Jefferson, Official White House Portrait, by Rembrandt Peale, 1805.” 

The full set of readings for Pentecost Sunday (5/20/18):  Acts 2:1-21, or Ezekiel 37:1-14Romans 8:22-27, or Acts 2:1-21John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15, and Psalm 104:25-35, 37.  The full set of readings for Trinity Sunday (5/27/18):  Isaiah 6:1-8Psalm 29Romans 8:12-17, and John 3:1-17.

Pentecost is also called “Tongue Sunday,” for the “tongues of fire” that appeared that day, as noted in Acts 2:3.  Also for “speaking in tongues” – also known as glossolalia – noted in Acts 2:4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Third, Pentecost marks the beginning of “Ordinary Time” – as it’s called in the Catholic Church – and shown in the chart at left.  Such “Ordinary Time” takes up over half the church year.  In the Episcopal Church – in the Anglican liturgy  – the Season of Pentecost begins on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday and goes on “through most of the summer and autumn.”  It may include as many as 28 Sundays, “depending on the date of Easter.”

As to Whitsunday: The name is a contraction of “White Sunday.”  In English “the feast was always called Pentecoste until after the Norman Conquest, when white (hwitte) began to be confused with wit or understanding.   [In] one interpretation, the name derives from the white garments worn by catechumens, those expecting to be baptised on that Sunday…  A different tradition is that of the young women of the parish all coming to church or chapel in new white dresses on that day. 

Re:  “Ecclesiasticus.”  That book – not to be confused with Ecclesiastes – is also called the Wisdom of Sirach And the “book itself is the largest wisdom book from antiquity to have survived:”

Sirach is accepted as part of the Christian biblical canons by CatholicsEastern Orthodox, and most of Oriental Orthodox. The Anglican Church does not accept Sirach as protocanonical, and says it should be read only “for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth not apply them to establish any doctrine.”

Note that the link in the main text provides the King James translation of Ecclesiasticus 42:17.  The quote as given in the main text is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The lower image is courtesy of The Good Heart: Holy Spirit Coming (Painting by He Qi):  

“A genuinely good heart is a heart that is open and alight with understanding.  It listens to the sorrows of the world.  Our society is wrong to think that happiness depends on fulfilling one’s own wants and desires.  That is why our society is so miserable…”

See also He Qi « Artist:  “One could say that among other things his paintings are a celebration of colour.  The style of his work is iconic, and [his] images are strong but gentle.”

 

Palm Sunday: To “not sin,” or to accomplish something?

Is this the face of a prophet?  He did say to mind your own business, just like Jesus did…

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Two mornings ago I was reading the DORs for Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018.

For some reason Psalm 103 struck a chord, but not in a good way.  It seemed to focus on “sin,” in the manner of so many “busybodies” who masquerade as “good Christians.”  (Illustrated at right.)  See for example 2d Thessalonians 3:11 … Bible Hub, and the citations therein.  And see also – from the Palm Sunday readings –  Psalm 103, and especially Psalm 103:3 and Psalm 103:10.

All of which led to this question:  What does God want us to actually do with our lives? 

Should we focus on trying not to do anything wrong?  Or should we focus more on actually doing something with our lives?  Put another way:  Should we focus on developing the talents and gifts that God gave us?  Or – as some Christians seem to imply – “We have to focus on staying ‘sinless,’ and thus on staying Simon Pure?”  (A term which can mean either “genuinely and thoroughly pure,” or “superficially or hypocritically virtuous.”  The problem?  Too many so-called “Conservative Christians” seem to fit the latter meaning…)

http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890x556.pngMy theory is that God would prefer that we actually do something positive with our lives, and not worry so much about not making mistakes.  See for example On sin and cybernetics, which noted “You can’t hit the target without ‘negative feedback,’” shown at left, and also that:

Maybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are simply tools to help us get closer to the target next time out, even if we never become “perfect.”

And which also leads to the Biblical concept about Minding Your Own Business.  There was a variation on that theme by Hank Williams.  (“Hank the Elder.”)   It has the standard chorus, “If you mind your business then you won’t be minding mine.”  And it closes by saying, “if you mind your own business you’ll stay busy all the time.”  You’ll be so busy, in fact, that you won’t have time to be telling other people how to live their lives.  (I.e., being a “busybody.”)

Which is actually Biblical.  See Matthew 7, and especially 7:5, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye:”

Here the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount … gives a new motive to the work of self-scrutiny and self-reformation…  When we have wrestled with and overcome our own besetting sins, then, and not till then, shall we be able, with the insight and tact which the work demands, to help others to overcome theirs.

See also On “holier than thou,” for more on the Parable of the Mote and the Beam (In which Jesus warns His followers on “the dangers of judging others, stating that they too would be judged by the same standard.”)  That post also presented an easy test:  “Being aware that you may be self-righteous – or have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude – is a strong indication that you probably don’t have either problem.”

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And speaking of Palm Sunday, it’s that time of year again.

We are now in the midst of Holy Week.  On that note, see the following posts:  From 2015, On Holy Week – and hot buns;  from 2016, On Holy Week – 2016; and from 2017, Psalm 22 and the “Passion of Jesus.”  The latter post included the image below, with the note about Good Friday, to wit:  “Here’s a spoiler alert:

There is a happy ending, and we get to find out all about it next Sunday…”

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Thepassionposterface-1-.jpg

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The upper image is courtesy of Hank Williams – Wikipedia:  “Hank Williams in concert in 1951.”

The complete set of Daily Office readings for Palm Sunday:  “AM  Psalm 24, 29Zech[ariah] 9:9-121 Tim[othy] 6:12-16;  PM: Psalm 103Zech[ariah] 12:9-11,13:1,7-9;” and Luke 19:41-48.

The “masquerade” image is courtesy of Drama – Wikipedia:  “Comedy and tragedy masks.”  See also Definition of two-faced by The Free Dictionary.

The lower image is courtesy of Passion of the Christ – Wikipedia.  It was also used in the 2017 post, Psalm 22 and the “Passion of Jesus.” 

On the beginning of Lent – 2018

The Temptation(s) of Christ – during His 40 days of wandering – which Lent seeks to emulate…

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I confess – I “do not deny but confess” – that I have been lax in posting new essays for this blog.  One excuse is that I’ve been focusing more on my art.  (For one thing, I’ve finally gotten to the point – after 66 years of this incarnation – that I actually feel like I know what I’m doing.)  Be that as it may, it’s high time to finish another post, especially since Lent began a week or so ago, with Ash Wednesday.

If nothing else, I may need to do penance for my sins…  (The image at right is “‘La Penitente’ by Pietro Rotari.”)

Which relates to the kind of Wandering in the Wilderness that many of us seem to have to go through.  (That is, before we “reach a certain age” and – for example – feel like we know what we’re doing.)

So anyway, this whole idea of Lent as a kind of mini-Wandering in the Wilderness started back with Moses.  And with his leading the Children of Israel during the original Exodus, as recited years later by Nehemiah, at 9:12-21.  Now we don’t have an actual “pillar of cloud” by day, or a “pillar of fire in the night” to light our way.  But we do have the example set by Jesus.

Which brings up the whole topic of Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent:

According to the canonical gospels of MatthewMark and LukeJesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by SatanLent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter.

See Wikipedia, On Ash Wednesday and Lent, and also Lent 101 – The Upper Room.

So the “40 days of Lent” are supposed to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent “wandering in the wilderness.”  (And being “tempted.”)  In turn, that act by Jesus mirrored the 40 years that the Hebrews – led by Moses – also spent “wandering around.”  But as it’s evolved, most people today equate Lent with “giving up something they love.”  Which may miss the point entirely.  (See e.g., Lenten disciplines: spiritual exercises or ego trip?)

For me it seems more appropriate to remember that “while the Promised Land is wonderful, we learn our greatest lessons on the journey along the way.”  That’s from the “mini-Wandering in the Wilderness” link above, posted by Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman back in 2011.  His article is called “What We Can Learn from Wandering in the Wilderness,” and it contains some valid points for this Lenten season.  Points like this:

Life can be hard, and the world can be scary.  If we learn to accept that, and not expect the world to revolve around us, we can discover the myriad ways in which we can make a difference, and invest our energy in those tasks.

So the Christian life itself is a pilgrimage, and the 40 days of Lent can be a kind of dress rehearsal, or “full-scale practice.”  (Where it’s important to remember the happy ending.)  

Another lesson:  It can be “fun, natural and even important to explore uncharted territory [during Lent].  After all, we never learn or grow if we stay in the same place.”  Which is why – two years ago – I chose a different course.  See My Lenten meditation, from February 14, 2016:

I’ve always wondered just when, where and how Moses came to write the first five books of the Bible. (The Torah.)  So I’ve decided that – aside from Bible-reading on a daily basis, which I already do anyway – I’ll spend this Lent “meditating” on this topic.  More precisely, I plan to spend this Lent contemplating on how and when Moses wrote those first five books.

Which turned out to be pretty enlightening.  For example, Moses probably knew the earth revolved around the sun, but couldn’t share that information with the primitive, illiterate tribes he led.  (He would have been stoned to death for heresy.  See On Moses getting stoned.  And as an aside, the same thing almost happened to Jesus.  But in Luke 4:21-30, Jesus wasn’t threatened by stoning, as Moses was.  Instead, “the people” wanted to throw Him off a cliff, as shown at left.)

For another thing, four of the five books of the Torah were “pretty much autobiography.”  (That is, Moses wrote about his life, and his role in leading the Hebrews out of slavery and into their Promised Land.  And in doing so he referred to himself in the third person, a literary device called illeism.  See also On Moses and “illeism.)  But in writing Genesis, Moses had to go back to the origins of time itself.  He had to go back to the Creation of the World itself.   And in doing that, he almost certainly had to rely on oral tradition.

Then there’s the question whether “writing” had been invented by the time of Moses at all.  All of which are fascinating questions, but certainly beyond the scope of this post.  (Maybe later?)

So I’ll end the post with this BTW:  There are actually 46 days of Lent;  46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  That’s because Sundays don’t count in the calculation.  Sundays in Lent are essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve “given up.”  But somehow that fact got overlooked by the writers and/or producers of 40 Days and 40 Nights, the “2002 romantic comedy film.”  That film portrayed the main character “during a period of abstinence from any sexual contact for the duration of Lent.”  But as noted, the main character “could have taken Sundays off.”  Which just goes to show that – sometimes at least:

It pays to read and study the Bible!

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40 Days and 40 Nights (2002)

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The upper image is courtesy of Temptation of Christ – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Temptations of Christ, 12th century mosaic at St Mark’s BasilicaVenice.”  

The “Penitente” image is courtesy of Penance – Wikipedia, which adds this note:

The word penance derives from Old French and Latin paenitentia, both of which derive from the same root meaning repentance, the desire to be forgiven (in English see contrition). Penance and repentance, similar in their derivation and original sense, have come to symbolize conflicting views of the essence of repentance, arising from the controversy as to the respective merits of “faith” and “good works.”  Word derivations occur in many languages.

Re:  Phrase “reach a certain age.”  The allusion is to “women of a certain age.”  That phrase was “repopularized in a 1979 book by the psychotherapist Lillian B. Rubin, ‘Women of a Certain Age:  The Midlife Search for Self,’ in which midlife spanned 35 to 54.”  The 1995 New York Times article noted that – at the time it was published – Ms. Rubin was then in her early 70s.  It then added:

[T]he phrase … “has a long history in French, where it refers to women of fortyish and thereabouts who are able to initiate boys and young men into the beauties of sexual encounters.  The early use in English seems to be about spinsterhood, but the French meaning has nothing to do with marriage…”  In French, the phrase has erotically or sexually charged overtones.  [Naturally.]  “It comes from a society where sexuality is freer,” Dr. Rubin notes, “and more understood as an important part of human life…”  The phrase in French is femmes d’une certaine age.  The term, however, can apply to either sex.

To which I add my own hearty Amen.  (“So be it.”)  And note that as I’ve said before, one of the pleasures of blogging is that you can learn so many interesting new things…

The “giving up” image is courtesy of Diary of a Sower (“Giving up – or adding something – to Lent”).

Re:  Prior posts on Lent.  See On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016.

Re:  “Sundays off in Lent.”  See How Are the 40 Days of Lent Calculated? – ThoughtCoFast during Lent – EWTNIs There Really a “Sunday Exception” During Lent?

The lower image is courtesy of 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002) – IMDb.

“From Yahweh to Yahoo” – and the Great Dissenter

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. – otherwise known as “The Great Dissenter…”

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It’s Wednesday, January 17, 2017, and snowing in God’s Country(See “Twitter erupts in memes, jokes and snowy scenes.”)

Which means we’re not supposed to leave home – i.e., drive on the roads.  Which also means I have no excuse for not doing a new post.  (The last was Happy Epiphany – 2018, 11 days ago.)

And just to catch you up, last Saturday,  January 13, was the Feast Day for St. Hilary.  See last year’s On Hilary – 1″L,” and HE was a bishop.  An aside: “Hilary’s parents were pagans – ‘of distinction.’  And he was said to have had a ‘good pagan education, which included a high level of Greek.'”  He went on to convert to Christianity, and ultimately became the Bishop of Poitiers(A city 210 miles southwest of Paris.)

But after that Hilary ran afoul of both church and secular authorities.  He backed the wrong side in the Arian controversy, and for that the Emperor Constantius II sent him into exile for four years.  But he put those years to good use.  In fact, his “dissents” became so persuasive that they were ultimately adopted as the “majority opinion.”  (So to speak.)

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr circa 1930-edit.jpgIn that he was not unlike Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., at right.  His “dissents were often prescient and acquired so much authority that he became known as ‘The Great Dissenter.’”

Anyway, Hilary – 1″L” concluded that sometimes God’s work means being “a disturber of the peace.”  (See Pastor denounces Trump’s ‘s–thole’ comments with red-faced Vice President Mike Pence in the pews.)  Which brings up a book from 15 or so years ago, getting my Master’s degree in Journalism:  From Yahweh to Yahoo!: THE RELIGIOUS ROOTS OF THE SECULAR PRESS.  The Amazon review said this:

{The book} provides a fresh and surprising view of the religious impulses at work in the typical newsroom…  Doug Underwood argues that American journalists are rooted in the nation’s moral and religious heritage and operate, in important ways, as personifications of the old religious virtues.

As a quasi-journalist I tend to agree.  And add that the same can apply to bloggers.

Definitions.netOr as has been said before, the job of both reporters and real Christians is comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  The link gives a good history of the development of that concept, to wit:  That the job of both reporters and true Christians is to be “watchdogs:”

The “comfortable” were the fat cats in business and politics who were dabbling in crime and corruption behind the scenes.  The journalists saw their dual role in the media as both comforting the victims of corruption and also calling the sleazy fat cats to account for their crimes.

And while the phrase doesn’t appear in the Bible, “the concept of God comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted is thoroughly Biblical.”  See for example, Psalm 18:27, which in the NLT says of God:  “You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud.”

Dooley in 1900.jpgFor another look at the link between reporters and real Christians, see the original “Mr. Dooley.”  He was the “fictional 19th century Irish bartender” created by Finley Peter Dunne.  See Poynter:

“Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.”

(Emphasis added.)  Dooley was clearly being hyperbolic, but there are similarities.  Which is pretty much what Doug Underwood said in Yahweh to Yahoo!

Which brings us back to today’s Snow Day.  I’d found my copy of Yahweh to Yahoo earlier, and when I picked it up this morning, I found the back flap inserted between pages 276-77.  (A sign from God?)  The first sentence atop page 276:  “Journalists are highly attuned to hypocrisy, and their disgust at the discrepancy between what is preached and what is practiced among [some] religious folk can quite high.”  And note that I inserted the word “some” before “religious folk.”

I did that for a reason, expressed more fully in June 2014’s On “holier than thou.”  The gist of the post:  There are a lot of “prevailing quacks” in the Christian church.  The problem?  Such Bible literalists – who never go “beyond the fundamentals” – are both giving the rest of us a bad name and driving possible converts away in droves.  (Not to mention cheating themselves.)    

And that post included a quote from H. L. Mencken, in his Minority Report:

The only way that democracy can be made bearable is by developing and cherishing a class of men [ – people – ] sufficiently honest and disinterested to challenge the prevailing quacks.  No such class has ever appeared in strength in the United States.  Thus, the business of harassing the quacks devolves upon the newspapers.  When they fail in their duty, which is usually, we are at the quacks’ mercy.

The point of all this is that the right of dissent  – considering different points of view – is crucial to both personal spiritual growth and a healthy democracy.

For example, it was once said to be “contrary to Scripture” that the earth revolved around the sun.  But as I noted in Moses and Paul “dumbing it down,” the dissent finally prevaiied:

It was never ‘contrary to Scripture’ that the earth revolved around the sun.  It was only contrary to a narrow-minded, pigheaded, too-literal reading of the Scripture…”

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Gene Kelly as the Mencken-like character in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind

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The upper image is courtesy of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “1978 postage stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office to commemorate Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.”

Re:  Holmes as “the Great Dissenter.”  See Amazon, The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind – and Changed the History of Free Speech in America.  But there are other claimants to the title.  See for example John Marshall Harlan – WikipediaNorman Thomas: The Great Dissenter – amazon.com, and International Civil Rights: Walk of Fame – Thurgood Marshall.  Marshall – the first black Justice – “became known as ‘the great dissenter’ for his vigorous opposition to majority Supreme Court decisions he believed violated human and civil rights.”  As for Harlan:

He was known as “the Great Dissenter” [as] the lone justice to dissent in one of the Supreme Court’s most notorious and damaging opinions, in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.  In arguing against his colleagues’ approval of the doctrine of “separate but equal,” John Marshall Harlan delivered what would become one of the most cited dissents in the court’s history.

The point being that “dissent” is essential to spiritual growth, for both persons and communities.  But see also Right to dissent legal definition:  While some on the Supreme Court have said  freedom of speech is absolute, most Americans agree with Justice Holmes:  The Constitution allows some restrictions under some circumstances.  See Shouting fire in a crowded theater.

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Returning to the notes:  See the full Daily Office Readings for Saturday, January 13, 2018 on Satucket:  “AM Psalm 20, 21:1-7(8-14); PM Psalm 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117;  Genesis 6:9-22Hebrews 4:1-13John 2:13-22,” which includes a blurb on Hilary (of Poitiers).  They include Hebrews 4:1-13 and John 2:13-22.  Hebrews 4:1-13 reads:  “So then, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God;  for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.”  The point there is that after that initial Sabbath-day’s rest – see Genesis 2:2 – God went back to work.  (See Is God at Work in History? – Everyday Theology.)  The logical conclusion is that “in the hereafter,” those who “cease from their labors” for one “Sabbath” in heaven will also likely “get back to work.”  As to John 2:13-22:

The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’   Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’   The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’  But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The point there is that in saying “destroy this temple,” Jesus didn’t mean to be taken literally, but figuratively>  And that pretty much goes along with the major theme of this blog.

Re:  “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  See also Finley Peter Dunne – WikipediaTo comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortableSermon, Acts 19:1-10; 21-41, Comfort the Afflicted, and/or Who said comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

The lower image is courtesy of Inherit the Wind (1960 film) – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Gene Kelly as Hornbeck.”  The cast list included this note:  “Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck of the Baltimore Herald (patterned after Henry L. Mencken).”  In fairness I add this:

[T]he film engages in literary license with the facts…  For example, Scopes (Bertram Cates) is shown being arrested in class, thrown in jail, burned in effigy, and taunted by a fire-snorting preacher.  William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady) is portrayed as an almost comical fanatic who dramatically dies of a “busted belly” while attempting to deliver his summation in a chaotic courtroom.  The townspeople are shown as frenzied, mean-spirited, and ignorant. None of that happened in Dayton, Tennessee during the actual trial.

Happy Epiphany – 2018

The “Adoration of the Magi” – by El Greco – celebrated on January 6 as part of Epiphany

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Saturday, January 6 , is the Feast of the Epiphany.

In the Christian church, that day “celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.”   But January 6 goes by other names as well.  For one thing, it’s known as the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas(And just to confuse things, the evening of January 5 is known as Twelfth Night.)  Yet a third name for January 6 is Three Kings Day.

There’s more about the Three Kings later, but first note Satucket on Epiphany:

“Epiphany” is a word of Greek origin, related to such English words as “theophany,” “phenotype,” and “phenomenon.”  It means an appearance, a displaying, a showing forth, a making clear or public or obvious.  On this day, Christians have traditionally celebrated the making known of Jesus Christ to the world.

(See Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys,” and To Epiphany – “and BEYOND!”)

Here’s Matthew 2:1-12:  “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” 

That news – of a “new-born king” – scared the heck out of Herod the Great.  (The “Roman client king of Judea.”  His “fright” led to the December 28 “feast” for the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents.)

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - Adoration of the Magi - Google Art Project.jpgBut back to the Three Kings:  As Wikipedia noted, solid facts are hard to find:  “Though the event is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, there are no further details given with regards to their names, the number of Magi that were present or whether they were even royal.”  But for some solid theories see Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys.”  (Which includes information on the famed Christmas carol,  “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”)

Note also that the word originally used to describe the Three Kings was Magi, which gave rise to the current word “magic.”

Crossofashes.jpgFor more on the Season of Epiphany, see To Epiphany – “and BEYOND!”  That post notes that the full season runs from January 6 to – and through – the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.  This year, 2018, that date is February 11.  The following Tuesday, February 13, we celebrate Mardi Gras (A.k.a. Fat Tuesday.)  The day after that – February 14 – is Ash Wednesday, illustrated above right.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. . .

Getting back to the “eve” of January 6 as “Twelfth Night:”  That night is a “festival in some branches of Christianity marking the coming of the Epiphany.”  But as with some “holy-days,” that festival has gotten known for too much celebrating – if not debauchery – as shown in the painting below.  In fact, “Twelfth Night in the Netherlands became so secularized, rowdy and boisterous that public celebrations were banned from the church.

In other words, it became yet another occasion for “licentious, wild, and wanton partying [and] riotous pagan holiday spirits.”  (See Happy New Year – 2018?!?)  And that tradition goes back to the time before William Shakespeare. (1564-1616.)  See also Twelfth Night – Wikipedia:

“Twelfth Night” [in the play] is a reference to the twelfth night after Christmas Day, called the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany.  It was originally a Catholic holiday but, prior to Shakespeare’s play, had become a day of revelry.  Servants often dressed up as their masters, men as women and so forth.  This history of festive ritual and Carnivalesque reversal, based on the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia at the same time of year (characterized by drunken revelry and inversion of the social order; masters became slaves for a day, and vice versa), is the cultural origin of the play’s gender confusion-driven plot. [E.A.]

See also On coming home from a pilgrimage and the coming holidays.

So what’s the point?  One point could be that people love to party, and have since the beginning of time.  But another point could be that – also since the beginning of time – other people have found all that partying a bit too much.  As Wikipedia noted of Saturnalia:

Pliny [ – the lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome – ] describes a secluded suite of rooms in his Laurentine villa, which he used as a retreat: “…especially during the Saturnalia when the rest of the house is noisy with the licence of the holiday and festive cries.  This way I don’t hamper the games of my people and they don’t hinder my work or studies.”

Or as I noted in Happy New Year – 2018, “the web article on ‘The Truth About New Year’s‘ may convince you to stay home this New Year’s Eve…  But heck, I was going to do that anyway.  (Stay at home…)”  Not that I’m comparing myself to Pliny, but see also “great minds think alike.”

So – however you celebrate it – have a Happy Season of Epiphany, starting this January 6th.

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Twelfth Night (The King Drinks) by David Teniers c. 1634-1640.”

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The upper image is courtesy of Epiphany (holiday) – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “‘Adoration of the Magi‘ by El Greco, 1568, Museo SoumayaMexico City.”  See also Epiphany, from the “DOR” site.

The image to the left of the paragraph beginning “Back to the Three Kings” is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘The Adoration of the Magi‘ by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

The lower image is courtesy of The Twelve days of Christmas.  See also the January 2015 post, On the 12 Days of Christmas, which noted, “The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January [and] celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus.  In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.”

 

 

Happy New Year – 2018?!?

“In Christendom … New Year’s Day traditionally marks the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ…”

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Just in case you were wondering, Christmas is not just one day, it’s a whole season.  Not a long season, just 12 Days (Which 12 days of Christmas have been immortalized by a “host of songs and spin-offs,” including one ending with “some parts to a Mustang GT.”)  And that 12-day Season of Christmas  ends on January 6, a day known in some quarters as “Plough Monday.”  

Plough Monday was the traditional start of the English agricultural year.  That was the time when people quit partying during the 12 days of Christmas and got back to work.  (See “Here’s to Plough Monday!” – 12/28/2015.)  Of course in our present day we get “back to work” on January 2.  That’s after we’ve spent New Year’s Day watching college football and/or recuperating from all the partying we did on New Year’s Eve.

But naturally that’s not how we celebrate New Year’s Day in the Universal Church (That is, the undivided church of the followers of Jesus, including Catholic and Protestant denominations.)  In that undivided church, January 1 is known as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus(See also The Holy Name, for one set of Bible readings for the day.)  But there’s another name, for the less squeamish:

On January 1st, we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ.  Since we are more squeamish than our ancestors,* modern calendars often list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, but the other emphasis is the older.  Every Jewish boy was circumcised (and formally named) on the eighth day of his life,* and so, one week after Christmas, we celebrate the occasion when Our Lord first shed His blood for us.  [By and through the aforementioned circumcision, as illustrated above left.]

See Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys.”  (From 1/4/2016.)  That post from last year at this time explains about Epiphany – the “Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as human in Jesus Christ” – celebrated on January 6.  It also explains that January 6 too has an alternate name:  “Three Kings Day.”  And we’re familiar with those three wise men today largely thanks to a Christmas carol,  “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”  (For a live “old-timey” version see the Kings College Choir, Cambridge.)  And just as an aside, they were also known as Magi, and in its original sense the term meant “followers of Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster.”

But we’re digressing here…

Buzz Lightyear.pngFor more on the upcoming seasons of the church, see To Epiphany – “and BEYOND!”  (From January 14, 2017.)    The title of that post refers to Buzz Lightyear and his catch-phrase, “to infinity, and beyond!

The point being that practicing Christians also work to go “to infinity – and beyond!”  Or in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, to “live with confidence in newness and fullness of life,” and to await “the completion of God’s purpose for the world.”

But we were talking about New Year’s Day – and Eve – and the consensus seems to be that the origins of that time of celebration – if not debauchery – go back to pagan antiquity.

Back in 2,000 B.C. – 4,000 years ago – people in Mesopotamia – modern Iraq – started the practice of celebrating the new year.  But they partied hardy “around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March.”  The early Roman calendar too designated March 1 as the new year.

But then came the Julian calendar, named for Julius Caesar.  It added ten days to the prior 355-day year, and had the New Year start on the first day of January.  (Named for Janus, the “two-faced” god of gateways and beginnings.  Another BTW:  We now use the Gregorian calendar, which started in 1582.)  And finally, for a really in-depth analysis of New Year celebrations going back to “pagan antiquity,” see The Truth About New Year’s! Origins of New Years Celebration:

New Year’s Eve has become a time for people to wallow in excesses of liquor! The modern attitude seems to be, “have a wild time on New Year’s Eve, and turn over a new leaf on New Year’s Day!”  Most people seem to have convinced themselves that God is out of the picture for good. That God is not concerned with their modern revelings, drunken parties, promiscuous behavior!  

Be that as it may, the web article on “The Truth About New Year’s” may convince you to stay home this New Year’s Eve.  (For reasons including but not limited to New Year’s Eve being “noted for its licentious, wild, and wanton partying [and] riotous pagan holiday spirits – for the most part emanating from liquor bottles – all the while calling it “Christian!”)

But heck, I was going to do that anyway.  (Stay at home this evening that is…)

Have a Happy – and Safe – New Year! 

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“New York’s famed Times Square at midnight, December 31…”

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The upper image is courtesy of New Year’s Day – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “In Christendom, under which the Gregorian Calendar developed, New Year’s Day traditionally marks the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, which is still observed as such by the Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church.”  Text and/or images for this post were gleaned from New Year’s Day – WikipediaThe History | Origin of New Years Day / December 31stThe Ancient Origins of New Year’s Celebrations, and/or The Truth About New Year’s! Origins of New Years Celebration.  The latter article includes a sub-article on “The Modern Attitude of Compromise,” accepted by many ostensible Christians, with the comment that “Excessive drug use has become common at New Year’s Eve events.”

Note also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference further explained in this “notes” section. Thus as to the definition of squeamish – as to the full meaning of January 1 in the Christian calendar – the term means “easily shocked, offended, or disgusted by unpleasant things.”  The painting to the left of the paragraph in question is courtesy of Circumcision – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “The Circumcision of Jesus Christ, by Ludovico Mazzolino.”

Also, as to every Jewish boy being circumcised “on the eighth day of his life,” modern readers are sometimes confused by the Jewish method of counting days.  To us, the eighth day of Jesus’ life would be January 2, by starting the count on December 26.  But the ancient Jews – in effect – counted “inclusively,” meaning they started their eight-day count on December 25.  The main reason for such counting-of-days was that they had no way of determining “midnight” with any precision.  (The first “clocks” as we know them didn’t appear until the 1400s.)  Thus the Jewish day started “with the onset of night,” or dusk, or the setting of the sun.  See e.g.  Jewish Time – simpletoremember.com.

Note also:  This is why the Bible says Jesus was raised from the dead “on the third day,” Sunday, when He’d been crucified the previous Friday.  (See e,g, Acts 10:40.)  According to modern time, Jesus was raised on the second day, but that method is different from “Bible time.”  

As to the web article, The Truth About New Year’s! Origins of New Years Celebration:  I’m pretty sure the authors of that site don’t agree with the premises of this blog, to wit:  That God will accept anyone;  That God wants us to live lives of abundance;  That God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus; and:  That the “only way to live live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is to read the Bible with an open mind.”    

The lower image is courtesy of The Truth About New Year’s! Origins of New Years Celebration.  The full caption:  “New York’s famed Times Square at midnight, December 31, as thousands gather to usher in the pagan Roman New Year.  The undampended [sic] spirits of the crowd bring to mind the ancient Roman Saturnalia.”  Also note, “Photo by Countdown Entertainment LLC.”

 

On “Saint Doubting Thomas” – 2017

Thomas the Apostle, as envisioned in El Greco‘s “dramatic and expressionistic style…”

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The year 2017 is rapidly drawing to a close.  At the same time, Christmas is only a few days away.  But first comes the Feast day of Thomas the Apostle, on December 21.  And Thomas – in his own way – serves as a metaphor for all us “Doubters.”

(At least until we saw the light that is, and came to Jesus…)

Incidentally, after his “doubting episode” with the risen Jesus, Thomas traveled at least as far as India in his missionary journeys.  (The image at left shows the “Shrine of Saint Thomas in Mylapore,” where legend has it that he was martyred.)

You can read more about Thomas at St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas,” and On “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – 2017.  The latter post noted that basically this “Saint Doubting Thomas” has two special days:  One in December right before Christmas, and one on the Sunday right after Easter.  That is, the first Sunday after Easter – officially the second Sunday of Easter – is known as  “Doubting Thomas Sunday.”  (In 2018, it falls on April 8.)

That Doubting Thomas Sunday – in Easter – is so called because it always features the Gospel reading from John 20:19-31:

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

But the second Sunday of Easter is also called the “Sunday of Many Names.”  Those names include the “Octave of Easter,” and “Quasimodo Sunday.”

(The “octave” in question is the eighth day of Easter, or Sunday right after Easter Sunday.  And “Quasimodo” doesn’t refer to the guy shown above right, better known as the “Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  It refers to the Latin for the beginning of First Peter 2:2, also read that day.  In Latin the verse reads:  “Quasi modo geniti infantes.”  A rough translation:  “As if in the manner of newborn babes…”)

But we’re digressing here…

The point is that according to Wikipedia, the term Doubting Thomas refers to a “skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience.”

But that’s exactly what going to church and reading the Bible is supposed to provide:  An opportunity to have a direct and personal experience with the Force that Created the Universe (See Develop your talents with Bible study and The Bible and mysticism, which said Christianity is about “obtaining unity with God, through Christ.”) 

The latter post on mysticism included the definition of a mystic as “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute…”  In other words, a person who seeks a direct personal experience with God.

The post also included a reference to page 339 of the Book of Common Prayer, which says that “by sharing Holy Communion we are assured ‘that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son…’”  (Emphasis added.)

Which – to my way of thinking – is what Christianity is all about:  Obtaining a mystical unity with God, through Christ, by and through direct personal experience,  just like “Doubting Thomas.”

So in plain words there are two sides of the Christian experience:  The “corporate” or business side, and the “mystical” side.  The problem is that so many Christians get hung up on the “business side” of the Christian faith.  Mainly because it’s so much easier to work on.

But it’s only the mystical side that can lead to a direct personal experience with God, and Thomas the Apostle is a reminder that – hard as that may be – it can be done….

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The “Mystic marriage of Christ and the Church…

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The upper image is courtesy of Apostle St Thomas by GRECO, El – wga.hu.  For more on Thomas and his missionary journeys, see Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India.”

For more on “Quasimodo Sunday,” see The Bible – Lectionary Musings and Color Commentary.

Re: I Saw the Light.  According to Wikipedia, this was a “country gospel song written by Hank Williams.”   While Williams’ version “did not enjoy major success during its initial release,” it was “soon covered by other acts and with time became a country gospel standard.”

The lower image is courtesy of Christian mysticism  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  

There really IS a “Saint Nick” (Virginia…)

The REAL Saint Nicholas – of Myra – “saved three innocents from death.”  (“Inter alia…”)

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Virginia O'Hanlon (ca. 1895).jpgAside from the ongoing Season of Advent – from December 3 to 24 – there’s another Feast day to celebrate in early December.  Wednesday, December 6, was the Feast day for the REAL “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.”  He was Saint Nicholas of Myra, and he lived from 270 to 340 A.D.  So when Dr. Philip O’Hanlon told his daughter Virginia – at left – “Yes, there is a Santa Claus,” he was telling the truth.

Or at least the truth as that term is defined in today’s politics.

But seriously, on December 6 each year Nicholas of Myra is celebrated as a friend of children, giver of gifts and climber of chimneys.  (“Etc.”)  And as noted in the painting atop the page, he was brave enough to “save three innocents from death.”

Nicholas was visiting a remote part of his diocese [when he heard of the “three innocents.”  He set out for home and] found a large crowd of people and the three men kneeling with their arms bound, awaiting the fatal blow.  Nicholas passed through the crowd, took the sword from the executioner’s hands and threw it to the ground, then ordered that the condemned men be freed from their bonds.  His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell…

Location of Demre in Antalya province, Turkey.Incidentally, the three innocent men had been sentenced to death by the ruler of Myra – today’s city of DemreTurkey – “the corrupt prefect Eustathios [who] had accepted bribes to bring about the deaths of three men.”  This first St. Nicholas “was not one to be intimidated by the power of others, especially the power of the corrupt.”  He “stormed into the prefect’s office and demanded that the charges against the three men be dropped.”

That corrupt official eventually “confessed his sin and sought the saint’s forgiveness.  Nicholas absolved him, but only after the ruler had undergone a period of repentance.”

Which leads to this thought:  “Boy, we could sure use him today!!!

Then there were the stories of Nicholas of Myra’s “love for God and for his neighbor:”

The best-known story involves a man with three unmarried daughters, and not enough money to provide them with suitable dowries.  This meant that they could not marry, and were likely to end up as prostitutes.  [This was in “the good old days.”]  Nicholas walked by the man’s house on three successive nights, and each time threw a bag of gold in through a window (or … in colder climates, down the chimney).  Thus, the daughters were saved from a life of shame, and all got married and lived happily ever after.

Another story was more gruesome, but also had a happy ending.  During a time of famine, a butcher “lured three little children into his house, where he killed them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham.”  But Nicholas of Myra both “saw through the butcher’s horrific crime” and resurrected the three children from the barrel.

And it was from that “first St. Nicholas” that the jolly old elf at right evolved from.  (Even if some stories about him may lessen your appetite for pickled goods this holiday season…)

But then there’s the question:  “Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25, if St. Nicholas Day is December 6?”  There are a number of theories, but the most reasonable says that December 25 is nine months after March 25, by tradition the date of The Annunciation(I.e., the date of the “announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.” See On the Original St. Nicholas.)

You can see more at St. Nicholas [the] Saint Who Stopped an Execution, and Celebrating St. Nicholas: the Story of the Three Condemned Innocents.  Or from this blog, On the REAL “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick,” and On St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas.”  But in the meantime you can meditate on the image below of St. Nicholas “transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus…”

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St. Nicholas … “transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center … Saint Who Stopped an Execution.

The upper image is courtesy of saint nicholas church st nicholas church is the most outstanding … tourmakerturkey.com, which added:  “The protective personality of St. Nicholas and desire of helping children in difficult situations have been transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus … appearing on Christmas Eve to make everybody happy.”

On St. Andrew, Advent, and “Prosperity Theology”

Artus Wolffort - St Andrew - WGA25857.jpg

St. Andrew – the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle” – brought his brother Peter along with him…

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Thursday, November 30, is the Feast day for St. Andrew.   And:  “Just as Andrew was the first of the Apostles, so his feast is taken in the West to be the beginning of the Church Year.”

Advent2007candlelight.JPGWhich brings up that Liturgical (church)  year that begins with the Season of Advent:

Advent is “a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”  The theme of Bible readings is to prepare for the Second Coming while “commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas….”  The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah…  (E.A.)

As Wikipedia also noted, the church calendar “divides the year into a series of seasons, each with their own mood, theological emphases, and modes of prayer.”  Put another way, “Advent” begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and/or “the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day (30 November).”  So this year the First Sunday of Advent falls on December 3.  (Which is also the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s day.)

Incidentally, the Fourth Sunday of Advent is Christmas Eve Day (Which is cutting it really close.)  

And which brings us back to St. Andrew.  As noted in St. Andrew, the “First Apostle,” Andrew was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, but many people know very little about him.   Which is another way of saying that he was pretty important, but that he often gets overlooked:

Andrew was “one of the four disciples closest to Jesus, but he seems to have been the least close of the four…   That’s ironic because Andrew was one of the first followers[.  In fact,] because he followed Jesus before St. Peter and the others – he is called the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle.”

All of which means that if it hadn’t been for Andrew – dragging his brother along – we might never have had a St. Peter.   Also incidentally, St. Andrew ended up crucified on an x-shaped cross, as illustrated above left.  (Which will be tied in a bit further below…)

Andrew chose that method – according to tradition – because he  “deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus had been.”  And that x-shaped cross –  a saltire or crux decussata – is now commonly called a “Saint Andrew’s Cross.”  (Which appears on a number of flags and emblems, including Great Britain’s Union Jack, seen at right.) 

And that raises the question, How Did The Other Apostles Die?

Short answers:  Peter and Paul died in Rome around 66 A.D.  Paul was beheaded – an “honor,” because he was a Roman citizen – while Peter chose to be crucified upside down.  (Like Andrew, he “did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.”)  Matthias – who replaced Judas Iscariot – died by burning.  Thomas was “pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.” Philip was “arrested and cruelly put to death,” for converting the wife of a Roman proconsul. And James was said to have been “stoned and then clubbed to death.*”

And all of that brings up the hoax – if not heresy – of “prosperity theology.”

Briefly, prosperity theology “is a religious belief among some Christians [which] views the Bible as a contract between God and humans:  if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.”  Which brings up the question:  Didn’t the Apostles have faith in God?

The short answer is yes they did, but they certainly didn’t end up secure and prosperous.  They ended up with something far more precious, despite their gruesome deaths  See 1 Peter 1:6-7:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Then too, as Jesus Himself said in Matthew 6:24:  “No man can serve two masters…  Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  (In the King James Version, the Bible God uses.  “Mammon” is illustrated above left.)  And speaking of a “contract,” according to the Wex Legal Dictionary it is an “agreement between private parties creating mutual obligations enforceable by law.”

So, if Mr. Prosperity Theologist feels like he isn’t getting all he “deserves” from God, in what court will he file a lawsuit?  (See e.g., You Can Sue God, But You Can’t Win.  For one thing, “There could never be service effectuated on the named defendant…”)  But we’re digressing here.

The point is that mixing up the worship of God and Mammon has been around since the time of Jesus.

The same could be said of “peddling God’s word,” along with other forms of hucksterism.  That’s also been around for some 2,000 years.  See for example, 2 Corinthians 2:17.  In the New Living Translation it reads, “You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit.”  Or in the New International Version:  “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.”

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You can read more on the upcoming Season of Advent in the following posts:  On Andrew – “First Apostle” – and Advent(11/30/16.)  On Advent – 2015(11/30/15.)  And An early Advent medley (12/4/15.)

As to all of which a follower of prosperity theology might simply say, “Why bother with all that Advent rigamarole?  I’ve got a contract with God.  He owes me!!

In the meantime, the rest of us can enjoy the upcoming “time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”  And also the calling of St. Andrew, who – along with his brother Peter – were two of the preeminent Apostles

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Caravaggio: The calling of Sts Peter and Andrew

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew,” by Caravaggio

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The upper image is courtesy of Andrew the Apostle – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘Saint Andrew the Apostle’ by Artus Wolffort.”  Note also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section. 

Thus as to how other Apostles died:  Of the rest of the 12, some accounts say Matthew “was not martyred, while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.”  There are various accounts of how Bartholomew “met his death as a martyr for the gospel.”  Simon the Zealot was said to have been “killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.”  Only John was “thought to have died a natural death from old age,” after writing the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation.  But an early tradition had him “escaping unhurt after being cast into boiling oil.”

The “snake oil” image is courtesy of Patent medicine – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Caravaggio: The calling of Sts Peter and Andrew – Art:

A beardless Jesus gestures Peter … and his brother Andrew to follow him…  Caravaggio gives his own interpretation.  Because of his prominence, the man on the left is thought to be Peter…  One of the details that shows this work must be the original is a carving in the ground layer under Peter’s ear.  Caravaggio often used such incissions [sic]…

See also, The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew – Wikipedia.

And finally, a distinction between “prosperity theology” and lives of abundance, per John 10:10:

“Abundant life” is a term used to refer to Christian teachings on fullness of life…  For a Christian, fullness of life is not measured in terms of “fun” and “living large”, or in terms of wealth, prestige, position, and power, but measured by fulfilled lives of responsibility and self-restraint, and the rewards and blessings that accrue over a lifetime of pleasing God. According to the abundant life interpretation, the Bible has promises of wealth, health, and well-being, but these promises are conditional promises.  

In other words – Mr. Prosperity Theologist – lots of luck in that lawsuit where you start off, “I’ve got a contract with God.  He owes me!!